Town centre could thrive despite cuts

The gathering, nearly all of Fife Council elected emmbers and officials, who attended the public meeting on the budget consultation at Parkhill Primary School in Leven on December 9 (2014)
The gathering, nearly all of Fife Council elected emmbers and officials, who attended the public meeting on the budget consultation at Parkhill Primary School in Leven on December 9 (2014)

Leven could be entering a more prosperous period in the new year, despite potentially heavy cuts to services as Fife Council tries to balance its books.

The challenges ahead were spelled out at a public meeting last week – which drew a very low attendance – in Parkhill Primary School, as part of the Council’s local consultation on its draft budget proposals.

The gathering was reminded that the chasm between the cost of services and Fife Council’s income was estimated to reach just over £77m by 2017-18, and savings would have to be found to bridge that gap.

However, core funding would be coming forward to transform Leven’s town centre and a meeting was due in January with traders to find out their “key needs”.

Regarding the budget, Council leader, Councillor David Ross, said the authority had to act now to meet the shortfall, rather than waiting.

“If it becomes too difficult a gap in three years’ time, we would have to look at compulsory redundancies and wholesale shutting of services if we do very little and find we have to make massive savings with not enough time to assess them properly,” he added.

The authority was not raising council tax, said Cllr Ross, but he doubted any Scottish party would be able to “stick rigidly” to that policy after the next election.

“We want to maintain a basic level of services and an acceptable standard, but we have to recognise there’s a lot of poverty and deprivation in Fife,” he said. “That costs money to tackle but it will improve life and save money in the long term, if we get in early and spend money to tackle what causes problems, rather than incur greater costs later on.

Cllr Ross added: “It can cost about £200,000 a year to keep a young person in care.

“That could pay for three or four social workers to keep people at home and work with families.”

In Leven, a two-year local funding sum of £500,000 has already been allocated for area regeneration, to be decided by the Levenmouth area committee, while it was hoped more core finance for investment could be found from the Council’s corporate budget.

Local area service manager Dave Paterson said the Levenmouth Charette in 2013 – public suggestions for transforming the area – had offered some good ideas for potential development, although it wasn’t yet known how Forth Ports intended to revitalise the site of the former Methil power station.

Leven was the “main economic generator of this area,” said Mr Paterson, but there was a lack of transfer of footfall to the High Street, which was quite visibly in “a bit of a state”.

“About 72 per cent of the grocery spend in the area is spent in Sainsbury’s, and we need to capitalise on it,” he added.

With 1500 houses in the Local Plan, Leven was set to become “more important”, said Mr Paterson, and next month’s meeting with traders would look at, among other things, improving the design of the town.

Local business boss Eddie Young said a spruce-up of the High Street, with particular attention to the amount of litter and dropped cigarette ends, would help, plus an ongoing effort to keep it clean.

He also suggested there should be a manager who could alert companies to the number of closed shops around the town centre, in the hope of maybe attracting more investment.

There should be further improvements, such as knocking down the old Threeways Inn building on North Street, and more to attract visitors to stay longer at the Durie Street/Scoonie Road end of the High Street, said Mr Young.

More information is available at www.fifedirect.org.uk/letstalk budget and the consultation period runs until January 13.

Eileen Rowand, Fife Council’s head of revenue and exchequer services, reminded last week’s meeting that, financially, “doing nothing was not an option” in meeting the cost of delivering services over a projected three-year period.

Her presentation covered the years 2015-16, 2016-17 and 2017-18, assessing rising costs against total funding available to the authority.

By 2017-18, costs were estimated at £825.6m and the Council’s funding was likely to be £748.4m, leaving just over £77m of savings to be made. “Demand and cost of services is rising and income is falling in real terms, so that’s why there’s a £77m budget gap that has to be addressed,” said Ms Rowand.